Buried Treasure

Daniel says he’s going to go look for treasure.

It made the national news lately that a local eccentric has put much of his life savings (in the form of gold nuggets and gems) into a box and hidden it somewhere in the mountains. He’s written a 24-line poem with clues to the treasure’s whereabouts. His motivation, according to the interview, was to encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the wilderness.

I forwarded the article to Daniel because I knew he was fond of treasure hunts. I did not know how fond. Daniel wrote back immediately and informed me that, while he was visiting me, he would be searching for treasure.

Of course, this was not the outcome I desired or anticipated. I have not seen Daniel since Christmas and I imagined we might spend some time doing something other than hunting for a 42-pound metal box. But Daniel is very excited. He has designed a number of treasure hunts himself, and participated in others. He tells me we will have a marvelous time.

I am not a fan of treasure hunts. In general, I don’t get excited about looking for anything that hasn’t been lost. It is a different mindset entirely, as far as I can tell, to find relaxation and enjoyment in searching for something that you may never find. Bird watchers do it. Rock hunters do it. People hunt for wild flowers and butterflies; my grandmother could immediately spot a four-leaf clover growing her yard. Daniel will lose himself for hours hunting for agates along the North Shore. He doesn’t want the agates. He is a sort of catch-and-release agate hunter. It is the hunting for agates that he enjoys. This is the part that is hard for me to understand.

My first reaction to the treasure-hunting plan was mild annoyance. I don’t want to have to work on vacation and that is what this sounded like— work. The thing that tends not to be discussed about teaching is that a lot of time is spent correcting papers and correcting papers is not a lot of fun. Reading half a dozen papers that are not particularly well-written is tiresome. Reading several dozen papers can be exhausting. I am ready for a vacation— one that does not involve looking for things that I didn’t lose.

I was thinking this as I finished up the most recent pile of papers. My students are writing proposals and some of them are not very persuasive. In some cases I am not at all sure what is being proposed. I was reading a paper like this when I suddenly encountered a really good idea, hidden in the middle of the third paragraph. The middle of the third paragraph is not where a good idea belongs, but there was no denying it was a good idea. I circled it and wrote, “You buried a very good idea!”

And then I sort of got it— the whole treasure hunting thing I mean.

I wasn’t reading that paper expecting to find a terrific idea, but it was wonderful to find it. Daniel isn’t going into the mountains because he wants treasure, but because he likes the mountains and the wilderness. The idea that he might find treasure just makes the whole thing a little more exciting. I wasn’t sure if Daniel was completely serious, but I wrote to tell him that I’d be happy to go treasure hunting with him.

He wrote back to say he’d ordered a metal detector and was having it shipped to my house.

Till next time,


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